A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-scrap, discarded products with a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones, is reported to have been generated worldwide in 2019, up 21 per cent in five years, reveals a new report.
The third edition of The Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 launched on 2nd July by the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), provides comprehensive insight to address the global e-scrap challenge.
The new report also predicts global e-scrap generation will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost double the 2014 figure, fuelled by higher electric and electronic (EEE) consumption rates, shorter lifecycles and limited repair options.
According to the report, Asia generated the greatest volume of e-scrap in 2019 (24.9 Mt), followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12 Mt), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt respectively.
In 2019, only 17.4 per cent of e-scrap was officially documented as formally collected and recycled. This means that iron, copper, gold and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at US $57 billion – a sum greater than the gross domestic product of most countries – were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse in 2019. If valuable materials within e-scrap are reused and recycled, this can promote a circular economy through secondary material use.
The number of countries that have adopted a national e-scrap policy, legislation or regulation has increased from 61 to 78 between 2014 and 2019. In many regions however, regulatory advances are slow, enforcement is low, and the collection and proper e-scrap management is poor. E-scrap is a health and environmental hazard if not handled appropriately, as it contains toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury.
The report highlights that 50 tonnes of mercury are likely found in undocumented e-scrap flows, which pose harm to workers’ health and the environment if released. The report also calls for decision-makers to adopt an internationally recognised methodological framework to measure and monitor e-scrap which will help assess developments over time, and to set and evaluate targets.
The Global E-waste Monitor is a collaborative effort between the Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme currently co-hosted by the United Nations University (UNU) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).